Erick Green, Markel Brown

Virginia Tech moves to 7-0 with upset of No. 15 Oklahoma State

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We love Oklahoma State here at CBT. We love the team’s grit, the soaring athleticism of LeBryan Nash and the ferocious dunking of Markel Brown. We’re waving the banner of Marcus Smart, who has lived up to his name and his pre-season billing as a fabulous freshman. We haven’t paid much attention to Virginia Tech, a team that fired long-time coach Seth Greenberg and hired relatively unknown James Johnson May 1 of this year. Top recruit Montrezl Harrell fled to Louisville shortly after, and the Hokies seemed to be in full-on rebuilding mode.

Now that Tech is 7-0 with an upset of a strong Oklahoma State team on their resume, is it time to take a second look?

Obviously. Rhetorical questions are so ten minutes ago.

The future does, indeed, still look somewhat shaky for Virginia Tech. The recruiting groundwork laid by Greenberg has been compromised. But Johnson has taken the leftovers and forged a team that could see some postseason play. Maybe not the Big Dance, but still.

The good news in Blacksburg starts with Erick Green. The senior guard stayed put, and has been spectacular for the Hokies. His 28 points against the Cowboys — a season high — included 57% shooting from behind the three-point line. Green can rebound, shoot, handle and pass, and he’s the heart of all the positivity that has clung to the Tech program this year.

Johnson was also able to keep his frontline strong, retaining redshirt junior Cadarian Raines (9.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and true junior Jarell Eddie (17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game) for his maiden voyage on the SS Hokie. 6’5″ sophomore guard Robert Brown is the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 12.7 per.

According to, the Hokies are shooting very well (56.2 effective FG%) and controlling the ball. Defensive lapses may yet cost them in a rugged ACC, but for now, the glass is half-full.

James Johnson did the first job any coach has to do when taking over a new team: he retained as many players as he could. It’s nearly impossible to keep everyone in that situation, and Johnson lost some good ones, but he kept some underrated players who give the Hokies leadership and a burning will to win and prove the doubters wrong.

Now, he’s doing the second job a new coach must do: he’s put together the pieces he has, and figured out how to win with them. I was rather impressed when they moved to 6-0 by beating a pretty good Iowa team. Now that they’ve put down a ranked Okie State, I’m very impressed.

With new coach point one taken care of, and new coach point two in progress right now, Johnson is practically playing with house money. If he can keep this team happy and healthy during the upcoming ACC season, and give a good account in televised December games against West Virginia and BYU, he’ll be well on his way to getting a jump on new coach point number three: a dynamite recruiting season that will put his stamp on the program and build a solid future.

That makes him, and the Hokies, worthy of our attention this season.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.